With the FBI looking into an ethics scandal with close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA), the incumbent governor is drawing challengers from both the right and the left, and some are wondering whether he will run for re-election.
Georgia Republicans are now in full damage control mode, even going as far as scaling back a popular decision to call for an independent investigation of the ethics commission’s handling of ethics complaints involving Gov. Deal. The governor’s team is desperately trying to stem the tidal wave of voter dissatisfaction reflected in recent polling that finds Gov. Deal is surprisingly vulnerable as he faces re-election in 2014.
Plagued by multiple scandals, Gov. Deal has already drawn two challengers from his own party, Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge and Tea Party favorite, David Pennington. On the Democratic side of the aisle, former State Senator Connie Stokes has already thrown her hat in the ring, and State Senator Jason Carter said that he, too, is considering a run.
As Gov. Deal careens from crisis to crisis, the political rumor mill is churning with speculation about whether the sitting governor will, indeed, run for re-election, or will he do what he did as a member of congress – bow out in an effort to avoid the consequences of the multiple scandals in which he is now embroiled?
As The Economist points out this week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is famous for getting into big trouble and then using his power and influence as an elected official to find an easy way out. As a result of recent sworn testimony by the current attorney for the state ethics commission and others, authorities, including the FBI, are again asking questions. It is no surprise that, once again, Gov. Deal is looking for an easy way out.
Gov. Nathan Deal has been under fire recently because of suspicions and allegations that members of his administration worked closely with the state ethics staff to destroy evidence from an open investigation into the governor’s financial records from his 2010 campaign.
Witnesses in a whistle-blower lawsuit have accused Holly LaBerge, Gov. Deal’s hand-picked executive secretary of the Georgia ethics commission, of ordering certain documents removed during the commission’s 2010 investigation of Gov. Deal and bragging that the governor “owes” her because she “made this go away.” The ethics complaints against Gov. Deal were resolved for administrative fees of just $3,350 rather than the $70,000 recommended by the ethics commission’s attorney. Witnesses also allege, and Gov. Deal’s attorney has confirmed, that the governor and others on his staff met privately with Ms. LaBerge during the open investigation.
When this situation came to light a month ago, the state ethics commission called an emergency meeting and voted to ask Georgia’s attorney general to appoint an independent investigator to look into the allegations. Watchdog organizations and voters of all political stripes applauded the move, but on October 22nd, with little explanation, no public meeting and no vote, the chairman of the ethics commission announced that the state audits department had agreed to conduct an internal probe.
The auditor, who was appointed by Gov. Deal and later confirmed by the General Assembly, has subpoena power, but cannot bring criminal charges even if warranted.
By voting to ask Georgia Attorney General Olens to appoint a special investigator, the commission signaled their understanding of the seriousness of the allegations that Gov. Deal and his team worked with commission staff to cover-up financial abuses. The allegations not only call into question the actions of the governor and his staff, but also undermine the credibility of the ethics commission itself.
Nothing should prevent a full, independent investigation. Not money. Not politics.
Gov. Deal has said that he is not involved in any way with the problems inside the state’s ethics office, but the fact is, every allegation involves his financial documents and the actions of his own team.
Gov. Deal said earlier this year, “Our success as leaders of Georgia depends heavily on the public’s ability to trust us.”
But, the day after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported this story, Gov. Deal lashed out at the newspaper, comparing it to a “fish wrapper.”
If Gov. Deal values the public’s trust, then it’s time for him to prove it. Gov. Deal should immediately disclose all of the documents that are in question. He should post them to his website.
And Gov. Deal should pick-up the telephone to call Attorney General Sam Olens to personally request an independent investigation.
If Gov. Deal has nothing to hide, he should work to clear his name instead of blaming others. If he doesn’t take steps to restore integrity, independence and transparency to the process, then, in 2014, voters should.
Amy Morton is Chair of Better Georgia, Inc. and a 20 year veteran of progressive politics in the Peach State. She previously chaired Georgia’s WIN List, was Vice Chair of Victory 2010, the Coordinated Campaign of the Democratic Party of Georgia and has consulted on multiple candidates and independent committees. A North Carolina native, Amy is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has her own practice in Macon, Georgia where she has lived for the last 28 years.